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China Box Office: Huge Weekend Sees ‘Soul’ Soar and ‘Little Red Flower’ Shoot

Soul
Courtesy of Disney

Disney/Pixar’s “Soul” continues to charm China with sales of $13.8 million over its second weekend, more than double its $5.5 million Christmas debut, thanks to strong word of mouth. It was the highest-grossing foreign import of the New Year weekend, far outstripping “Wonder Woman 1984” and even Hayao Miyazaki’s older but beloved animation “Ponyo.”

The weekend was huge. Industry consultancy, Artisan Gateway reported it as weighing in at $199 million, and other sources claim that is the biggest ever New Year weekend on record.

But the course of the next week promises to be disrupted by reactions to two separate plagiarism problems. State media reported that “The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity,” and “Bath Buddies” will both be removed from circulation from Monday.

Director Guo Jingming on Thursday publicly apologized for plagiarizing part of another author’s work in his 2003 novel “Never Flowers in Never Dreams.” Now, his new film “The Yin-Yang Master,” an authorized adaptation of a Japanese novel, is being accused of copying scenes from Marvel superhero film “Doctor Strange.” The film placed in fifth place over the weekend grossing $11.3 million, much lower than its $34.3 million debut last week. It now has a gross of $68 million since its Dec. 25 release. Netflix acquired rights to the film and will stream it in the rest of the world starting Feb. 5, just ahead of the lunar new year.

Even before it released in Chinese cinemas, producers of “Bath Buddies” had been accused of breaking off a co-production deal and going ahead with an unauthorized remake of a Korean comedy.

While state-owned tabloid The Global Times is reporting that the films will be pulled out of cinemas, Variety found that tickets were still for sale online on Monday morning local time.

“Soul” is expected to gross a total of around $54 million, according to projections from ticketing agency Maoyan. The Middle Kingdom is one of the only territories in the world where it will hit the big screen

That score, if confirmed, could put “Soul” in the running to become Pixar’s second-highest grossing title in China of all time, surpassing “The Incredibles 2,” which earned $51.5 million in 2018, but falling behind 2017’s “Coco,” which raked in $189 million to become the country’s 20th highest grossing foreign title in history.

“Soul,” whose titles roughly translates to “Spiritual Journey” in Chinese, continues to receive raves from local audiences, who’ve given it a 9.5, 9.3 and 8.9 out of 10 on the Maoyan, Tao Piaopiao and Douban platforms, respectively.

The film, which explores questions of how to live a meaningful life through the story of a jazz pianist voiced by Jamie Foxx who has an accident just after he gets his biggest career breakthrough, has sparked a lot of existential reflection in viewers as they turned the page on a dark 2020, one year on now from the emergence of COVID-19 in the country.

“What we’re living is not a mediocre life – from the moment we’re born, we already have a purpose, which is to cherish every present moment afforded to us,” reads one of the most popular Douban reviews.

“If you’re choosing a movie for New Year’s Eve, I’d recommend ‘Soul’ – it not only makes me want to cherish the small beauties of life, it also makes me want to thank the people and things that have illuminated me. Plus, the film’s music is very touching and very suitable for its themes,” wrote another.

Nevertheless, the animated title came in fourth at the box office, proving no match for homegrown stars and stories.

In first was local drama “Little Red Flower,” which grossed $80.1 million in its first three days — nearly double the China openings of “Tenet” and “Wonder Woman 1984” combined.

The film stars the uber-popular Jackson Yee, a member of the top Chinese idol boy band TFboys and star of last year’s breakout hit “Better Days,” which grossed $223 million, who plays opposite young Zhang Yimou muse Liu Haocun, a newcomer who features in the helmer’s latest “One Second” and upcoming thriller “Impasse” and Korean War-set “The Coldest Gun.” It is directed by Han Yan, who helmed 2018’s “Animal World,” hailed as a landmark for locally produced, special effects-heavy action films. The film counts HG Entertainment, Lian Ray Pictures, Ruyi Films among its more than 15 different backers.

Local comedy “Warm Hug” came in second, with a $50.2 million debut. The film stars and was directed by Chang Yuan, best known for turns in 2018’s “Hello Mr. Billionaire” and 2015’s “Goodbye Mr. Loser.”

Last week’s top earner “Shock Wave 2” fell to third this week with $33.8 million in sales. Starring Andy Lau and Ni Ni (“The Flowers of War”), the Hong Kong standalone action sequel to the first 2017 Shock Wave film was directed by Herman Yau.

Hayao Miyazaki’s “Ponyo” finally got a theatrical release in China on Friday, more than a decade after its original 2008 release. It opened eight to $1.62 million in sales, behind $2.98 million pre-screening sales earned by local animation “Octonauts: The Ring of Fire.”

Meanwhile, hotly anticipated action films “The Rescue” and “Wonder Woman 1984” continue to underperform. The rescue grossed just $1.39 million, while Warner Brothers’ title earned a paltry $284,000, according to data from Maoyan.